Summer’s Breaking Potential for Youth Pastors

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Summer is here. And with its arrival comes the booming cry of elation from students who have long awaited a brief reprieve from the schoolwork they are so intent on despising. (Perhaps) less pronounced is the joyful cry from parents, who must now prepare for an adjusted schedule, but who also might have the joy of an annual family trip to anticipate. Least prominent of all is the audible groan from us youth pastors, who tend to see the summer not as a welcomed break, but as a two-month marathon of lock-ins, camps, mission trips, and maybe (just maybe) an occasional moment with our own families.

For many outside of ministry, summer represents a warm reprieve from the drudge of the school year. For those in youth ministry though, it signifies something far different. These next two months can leave us feeling exhausted and burned-out if we are not careful. As youth pastors, parents, and church attenders, it is important to be prepared.

The Danger:

The danger created by the Summer Calendar is that of over-scheduling. Packed with summer camps, mission trips, and countless youth events, the youth pastor’s schedule challenges even the most Gospel/freedom/rest-centered ministry. It makes it difficult to stay focused on the core of our calling: Christ.

This focus is, of course, a challenge to maintain throughout the year as well. In the months of school though, a more predictable schedule, more built-in accountability in the student’s life, and more time for the youth pastor to prepare lessons all aid in maintaining a Gospel focus.

When the chaotic nature of the summer schedule sets in, however, those aids are lost. For the student, this sudden loss of regular accountability that comes with the daily demands of school can create a vacuum that is then easily filled with less than righteous solutions. For the youth pastor, this loss of predictability and the addition of numerous events can cause us to lose sight of both the students we are called to serve, as well as our own spiritual growth. That which is typically done during down time (personal time reading the Bible, prayer, etc.) is undoubtedly thrown aside so that final details can be nailed down for the next youth camp.

In the midst of staying so busy with ministry-related events, the Gospel that is typically one’s focus (in ministering to both teens and ourselves) can suddenly disappear.

The result of a Gospel absence not only guarantees that your many events will fail to accomplish what you had hoped, but that you will also be left feeling worn out by your own self-reliance. Ultimately, this mindset leaves us exhausted both physically and spiritually. And this is where burn-out will inevitably take over.

The Solution:

Thankfully, while physical exhaustion is an inevitable part of a youth pastor’s summer, spiritual burnout is avoidable if we rely on the already received/not yet fully experienced rest promised to us through Christ.

Hebrews 3-4 lays out our already/not yet promise of rest. Our rest, as it is promised in Hebrews 4:3, is confirmed for all those who have placed their faith in Christ. As a result, we can presently claim that spiritual rest in Christ.

Despite that reality, we obviously have yet to enter into our eschatological Promised Land, where our rest will be fully enjoyed. Thus, we are also told to “…strive to enter that rest so that no one may fall” in the same way the Israelites fell in the wilderness (Hebrews 4:11).

Both of these truths are vital to remember in the midst of the busy summer months. For they remind us not only where we are to find our success and encouragement (our present adoption as sons of God), but also our present calling (to work diligently in serving students who have perhaps not yet entered into the present rest of Christ). Whether or not you feel it, you are at rest in Christ if you have believed. What a glorious calling to bring the students we serve into that very same rest.

Unfortunately, there are times when ministry must be exhausting. But Hebrews reminds us that our exhaustion is not in vain.

Even for those of us who are not in youth ministry, this reality is a good reminder as we watch the youth pastors in our churches hard at work this summer. In the midst of hearing about yet another youth event/trip, look for ways you can help lighten your youth pastor’s load. Volunteer to help with transportation, or provide adult supervision during a youth event. Even if you cannot help out physically, we can all take a moment to acknowledge and thank the youth pastor/worker for the work that is being done; remind them of the rest they have in Christ.

In my own ministry, I have been so greatly blessed by a few individuals who regularly took the time to thank me for my work, and encouraged me in the midst of the summer grind. I can assure you that even a simple “thank you” helps a youth pastor to remain focused on the spiritual task at hand.

Summer is here. Take a breath. Find your rest in Christ. Get ready to work. And when August comes, do yourself and your family a favor and take nap.

 

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